Patients may start spending less time in the doctors office as electronic health records and patient-facing medical apps proliferate, according to researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
The study, which appears in the journal Health Affairs, looked at health informatics and health services research literature through June 2013 using Medline, the Cochrane Database and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s database on health IT.
Lead author Jonathan Weiner and his team estimated that when electronic health records "are fully implemented in 30 percent of community-based physicians’ offices," doctors will be able to meet the demands of about 4 to 9 percent more patients than they can today. The report also estimated a 2 to 5 percent reduction in the need for physician specialists if doctors use "e-referral" technology more frequently. Other programs, like doctor-patient communication portals and telehealth technology, "could help address regional doctor shortages" by enabling 12 percent of care to be delivered remotely.
“The results of our study are important because they provide a forward looking snapshot of how health IT will profoundly impact the American health care workforce over the next decade or two,” Weiner said in a statement.
Weiner and his team believe that while there is room for empirical research on this topic, digital health is one of the few trends that could widely change the future of American healthcare.
A few weeks ago, a similar study was published by Scripps Health physicians Steven Steinhubl, Evan Muse, and Eric Topol in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). The study found the use of mobile health technologies could offer consumers improved convenience, more active engagement of care, and greater personalization. The technology could do this by allowing consumers to self-diagnose their acute symptoms and enhancing the tracking of biometric information like blood pressure, glucose levels, and other vitals for individuals with chronic conditions.
On the clinicians' side, adoption of these technologies would demand less time from physicians, and they could instead re-assign the time where it's needed, like to "refocus on the art of medicine", researchers said. One way clinicians could save time is by passively tracking for any abnormal or concerning readings from patients, and proactively address them via text message, email, or telephone, and sometimes an office visit if the reading is urgent. Corresponding author Steinhubl and his team believe real-world clinical trial evidence is needed to "provide a roadmap for implementation," which will confirm the details of these findings.